There’s a reason that emo came out on top when the genre crashed into punk, goth, and metal in the early-to-mid-2000s: emo was honest. While so many other musical genres were preoccupied with acting tough or cool or hip, emo was unafraid to sob along to Edward Scissorhands, so it felt genuine. However, as the pants got tighter, the hair got poofier, and the open-minded weepers turned out to be rock star potheads like everyone else, emo quickly became a joke, an insult one hurled at any band who came off like a bunch of angsty wieners. By 2006, The Sword couldn’t blow up fast enough.
But as with any genre that gets popular and then crashes hard, dismissing emo’s influence on rock robs fans of some killer artists and songs. To blow off a band because they rose to fame during the “I Miss You” days only results in never hearing their good material. Similarly, acting like a super mopey, sentimental metal or punk band isn’t in some way ’emo’ just shows off how defensive you are as a music fan. So today, we’re honoring those artists who are admittedly emo as hell, but whose legacy isn’t any less rad for it.
Here are 10 bands who’ll have you crying your fuckin’ eyes out with how good they are…
After the release of 2003’s Sing the Sorrow, AFI were pretty much what every emo band desperately wanted to be. But what these Jack-and-Sally-come-latelies forgot was the California act’s hardcore roots — AFI didn’t just hit goth-punk gold overnight, they refined their sound over years in their local punk scene. Tracks from 1999’s All Hallows EP and 2000’s The Art of Drowning like “Total Immortal,” “Catch a Hot One,” and “Wester” provide a frantic power that elevated this band above so many other spooky kids. Don’t blubber if you haven’t taken the time to scream.
Though they are darlings of the modern metal scene, let’s be real: Killswitch Engage have always been pretty fucking emo. The band’s first massive single, “My Last Serenade,” is as broken-hearted a rock song as you can find. But the band’s saving grace is their deliciously powerful riffs, whose European death metal influence has always served listeners the knuckle sandwich they need to keep from feeling too heavy with sugar. Call their fans emo in public and see what happens (spoiler: they’ll become very upset).
One can hear metal fans protesting the world over about how Tom G. Warrior’s Triptykon shouldn’t be included on this list. But if we’re being honest, part of what makes the Celtic Frost mastermind’s new band so powerful is its emotionality. The soul-baring honesty of blackened doom epics like “Goetia,” “Aurorae,” and “Boleskine House” adds that extra glaze of misery to Triptykon’s material, reminding listeners that putting vulnerability into extreme music doesn’t necessarily weaken it. Sorry, guys, but this band’s as tear-streaked as they come.
Is there anything more emotionally crushing than growing up in New Jersey? Punk rockers Bigwig always came out of the gate with teeth bared and knuckles bloody, and frontman Tom Petta’s vocals are never without a certain snottiness. But tracks like “Smile” and “Moosh” take the band’s relatable humanity and cut the listener to the core with it. Though these dudes will always be more mohawk than eye-swoop, but their heartfelt nature can definitely lead to a hitched breath or two.
Ice Nine Kills
Sure, on the surface, Boston metalcore crew Ice Nine Kills are all about werewolves and Michael Myers. But it’s undeniable that the band’s approach cribs heavily from the more emo side of the metalcore genre (the ultra-clean vocals, for one), and even Spencer Charnas’ retelling of slasher films channel the villain’s sentimental motives. If their previous material didn’t tie them to the emo genre, their recent cover of Elvis’ classic “Can’t Help Falling In Love” certainly does. It just goes to show that even dismembered bodies have a heart in the middle of them.
While Bleeding Through definitely did their damnedest to always skew goth — the band incorporated plenty of Cradle of Filth-ish synths into their raging metalcore — their emo side is impossible to ignore. From their guyliner to the highlights, these guys courted the Atticus Clothing vibe to a considerable extent. And yet while it might feel dated in its aesthetics, the band’s 2003 record This Is Love, This Is Murderous is vicious, never allowing their gushing heart to overwhelm their unstoppable rage. The chosen soundtrack to honoring a two-month relationship with a massive tattoo.
Reggie and the Full Effect
There are so many genres and influences going on in any Reggie and the Full Effect song, from synth pop to hardcore. But at the gut of this solo project from Get Up Kids keyboardist James Dewees is emo, even if it’s emo at its most old-school and sincere. One only has to spin through 2005’s scathing Songs Not To Get Married To to hear how the band vents its issues with total abandon, even if they are often couched in smirks, sneers, and eye rolls. The feelings we snicker at are usually the ones that occupy our minds the most.
While the debut album by Joey Jordison side-project Murderdolls was entirely horror-oriented glam metal, the band’s calculated black-and-scarlet look definitely referenced the then-booming emocore world. It was on 2010’s follow-up album, Women and Children Last, that the band embraced their stitched-up-heart side more fully. Tracks like “Summertime Suicide” and “My Dark Place Alone” have an aggressive chug, but they also took a deep dive into arm-stocking-clad lyrical topics. The song “Welcome to the Strange” might as well have been licensed by Hot Topic’s sullen goth girl (remember Emily the Strange? Admit it, you had a shirt).
Minneapolis punk rockers Dillinger Four are a perfect example of how punk and emo will forever be brothers in arms. There’s not a jury in the world who’d say this band’s music is ’emo,’ but their use of minor chords and personal sincerity made fans feel like it was okay to express how they felt inside. As such, they’ll always in some way be related to the emo scene, even if their music has too chipped a smile to ever fit in with the genre at its most popular. Why cut yourself when you can crawl through broken glass and razor wire?
My Dying Bride
Sorry, metalheads, saying that My Dying Bride are goth metal and not emo is some real South Park vamp kid shit. The band’s forlorn, overcast doom metal is just emo with a greater scope, less worried about parking lot arguments and more concerned with how horny you get clutching the grave of your beloved. These dudes may have the sweeping passions of Mary Wolstencraft, but we all know that Frankenstein’s author would have a venom piercing and magenta highlight if she’d been a teen in 2003. I mean, for fuck’s sake, their name is My Dying Bride.
Words by Chris Krovatin